I recently wrote a piece for This is Africa on the lessons my experience of living under the Internet ban left me with. You can read the piece here
The internet ban was just a fraction of this protest, however. This ‘struggle’ which has gone on for over seven months experience has marked me in more ways than I can express. I am sure it has marked others just as much if not more. As I noted takeaways from the internet ban I considered other lessons this experience in its entirety should have taught us collectively as Cameroonians. This experience; the loss, the violence, the rifts, the ignorance, and crookedness it has exposed should be at the very least a learning experience. It should above all else challenge us to address things we let slide before, contributing factors to our current predicament we often overlooked.
Consider our Police….
For one, I hope Cameroonians now see the need to focus on the way we recruit our police and jailers. I hope we now find ourselves discontented at the common notion that if you are slow at school, unable to make it to university it is best to bribe your way into the police force for that government matricule. We regular send our least accomplished, our most unstable, school bullies and least learned people to be trained to enforce the laws of our society; how does that make sense? How then can we complain about police brutality? What do we expect given the crop we send there?
The majority of those signing up for a life of ‘law enforcement are barely in it for love of law, our police are there for the regular pay, the potential abuse of power, the government matricule… so how then do we expect that these people be relied on to serve us in time on emergency?
As though that isn’t enough, have we considered how they are trained? Stories of shaved heads, gruesome physical and verbal abuse during police and gendarme training regularly trickle out; we hear them and shrug. We mutter “hmmm” clap our hands or say ‘ashia’ in case we’re chanced to hear those who experienced it tell the story firsthand. But have we considered how the inhumane training process is for gendarmes, BIR, police, and wardens affect their performance? I have witnessed ENAP- Prison wardens newly admitted welcomed like criminals of war at their training institute. Following such ‘training’ how do we then expect them to act humanely to actual prisoners? Hopefully, this experience has highlighted that we need to train better police to be able to believe in law enforcement. As of now, I doubt a Cameroonian child would opt to go to the police for security reasons.
Civic ignorance is a breast lump…
Civic ignorance is one of our greatest threats. For democracy to work you need informed people. A government for the people, by the people, is only as great as the people themselves are. After months of seeing fellow citizens “just discover” historical ‘secrets’ they should know for fact, I pray we have established that we as a nation need to do better in terms of civic education.
It is unthinkable that so many of the younger generation know so little of our own history and what little some know is further tainted and distorted to fit certain stereotypes passed on by parents and regional groups. If Cameroon as a whole cannot teach its combined history to its entire population, how then do we expect to ever be on the same footing, building a future together? It should be unheard of that a Cameroonian knows the second in command of American and French political parties but is uncertain of who is next in line to succeed their own president. A great deal of misinformation during this crisis succeeded primarily because people of both educational systems are so lacking in knowledge of common historical events, lacking in knowledge of political processes, our laws, and rights. People have readily spread rumors of the United Nations doing what that international body has little authority to do, and with every Facebook and WhatsApp share it has become someone’s version of the truth. We literally have grown folks citing Facebook posts as sources like some ignorant undergrads cite Wikipedia.
You may be thinking: of course, it is a conspiracy by the government to keep us ignorant blah blah blah. But nope, that doesn’t cut it. We need to take an adequate share of responsibility for our ignorance. This level of ignorance isn’t a result one party’s doing. It’s like a breast lump left unchecked. We all have a hand in this one. You sanctioned ignorance when you gave your child pocket money to go spend on the on 11th February last year without them knowing why they were marching in the first place. We all want to claim injustice this year and denounce these events, what were we doing last year? I was on the field last year to question people on the purpose behind 11th February celebrations, the responses were terrible! See videos here.
We allowed this ignorance to build to this point where is has- like spittle spat above our heads- come down to foul our faces. Our collective ignorance has been highlighted in neon green during this protest and if we can as a nation take away one thing from this experience, I hope that is the need to address civic ignorance.
We often brush away our lack of interest in knowledge of our country with statements like “why you wan know sef, the whole country is trash”. I can’t sigh enough at this. We need to know so we can properly criticize the ‘trash’. We need to know so we can address the trashy parts or don’t we want it fixed? If we fail to address our ignorance today as a people, we should be ready to have it used against us in the near future.
Finally, the time is now!
When dealing with our own, we as Cameroonians have a ‘special’ notion of time. See, Cameroonians in the diaspora will be 15 mins early for work but choose to show up a 10 pm for an alumni party scheduled to begin at 7 pm. We just have less respect for our own. Perhaps it is an extension of the culture of giving the best to foreigners and guests while accepting mediocrity for ourselves, perhaps it’s something else. Either way, this experience should have imparted one final lesson to us all. We can’t afford to put off planning for what next. I personally believe that ‘the struggle’ is what it is today because it began without a coherent, efficient plan. We demand change, we have protested for change, but do we have a suitable blueprint of what that change ought to be, look like, how it will come about?
We as a nation should now realize that the time is now to build the environment for change. Change isn’t merely going to come with new leaders; we are often too focused on building the right ‘leaders’ that we forget we need to build an active citizenry too. I hope this experience leaves us with the awareness of this need. May we have learned to criticize ourselves more, verify the information we receive and share, ask genuine questions of our ‘leaders’ and recognize threats to freedom of expression to one is a threat to everyone’s expression. Perhaps now we have seen first-hand that as much as we can decry the stagnancy and oppression of a 34+ year rule, we as individuals have a great role to play and with this experience may we have witnessed what happens when you don’t call out your own people for their blunders- even a legitimate protest can go awry if unchecked. I hope we now know that we create monsters when we support our own without calling them out for their follies.
Our greatest takeaway should be the urgency of our need for strategy. The time is now to build a conscious citizenry, to hold our party leaders accountable and much more. American elections were pushed in our faces by the media both at home and abroad for 18 months. Cameroon’s next election is in less than 18 months, what do we know of our options? This experience should have left us with higher expectations, now conscious of just how inept our administration can be with handling crisis we ought to be demanding better, constructing the do’s and don’ts of what the ideal administration would entail. The opposition shouldn’t be a de facto choice. It is not enough to achieve ‘change’, we do not want a change similar to our present or worse.
Again, I can only hope we as a nation are learning.
Drop a comment below and let me know what lesson this experience has left you with! I’m eager to see other perspectives.